Ce De Candy's sweet transformation
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Since 9/11, even candy makers have been enlisted in the fight to keep the nation’s food supply safe from bioterrorists. That’s why Ce De Candy, the maker of the Smarties brand of candy products, installed an automatic data capture and inventory management system in its Union, N.J., and New Market, Ontario manufacturing plants. Technology is not only transforming the way the company collects data, it is also laying the foundation for using that data to improve its processes in the future.
The technology allows the candy maker to track and trace the source and lot of the ingredients used to make its popular candies as well as the customers who that shipped the finished goods. That has enabled Ce De Candy to comply with the new lot and product tracking requirements from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Bioterrorism act.
“When the FDA announced the new requirements, we suddenly had to maintain accurate records in case there was product tampering, contamination, or a recall,” says Rick DePinto, Ce De Candy’s information technology manager. An added challenge was that Ce De Candy still ran a paper-based warehouse without a warehouse management system or bar code scanning. “Prior to that, we didn’t have to track anything,” he adds. “We had to get up to speed and implement a system that would comply with the new mandates in a hurry.”
How fast? Once the requirements were finalized, Ce De Candy had just six months to get the system up and running. The solution it implemented was a highly customizable software package (Portable Technology Solutions) that integrated easily with the manufacturer’s ERP system and utilizes wireless, rugged bar code scanners (Motorola) to accurately track the source of ingredients—the important steps in the manufacturing process and finished products.
Since going live, Ce De Candy is not only compliant with the federal tracking requirements, the company has also discovered additional benefits in its logistics operations. “With the additional information available, we now have a record of every pallet picked for a customer,” says DePinto. “That has improved the way we handle customer disputes regarding shipments.”
Getting up to speed
Founded in England in 1932, Ce De Candy Inc.’s chairman launched operations in the U.S. in 1949 with only two wrapping machines, a rented facility, and a lot of ingenuity. More than 60 years later, the company produces 8.8 billion rolls of Smarties and other products each year that are sold through a large number of retail channels including drug stores, supermarkets, convenience stores, and wholesale clubs.
For most of those 60 years, Smarties had been manufactured, stored, and shipped in much the same way. Suppliers provided the raw materials that go into making the rolled candy product. Depending on the ingredient, a shipment of raw materials may satisfy several days worth of manufacturing, or longer. While some information was collected, it was not as complete as was required by the new bill; and it was collected manually, not electronically.
The federal Bioterrorism Act changed all that. First passed in 2002, the act created new FDA requirements to track the source and ingredients that went into every food product and identify where that product was shipped for the purposes of potential contamination. “Suddenly, everything had to be trackable,” says DePinto. “We had six months to get a solution in place.”
While compliance was a priority, Ce De Candy didn’t want to meet the mandate at the expense of it current manufacturing processes, or put new burdens on its candy makers. “We did not want to add major steps for people who know how to make candy but aren’t tech savvy,” says DePinto. That was especially important because English is not a first language for many of Ce De Candy’s employees.
Finally, DePinto put a priority on finding a solution that could meet the candy maker’s new requirements and integrate with the existing ERP and order entry system without a lot of custom programming.
For those reasons, DePinto decided to focus on the software rather than the hardware. “My approach was to find the right software application and let the vendor dictate how that would work,” DePinto says. “Whether it was handheld scanners or tablets, real-time or batched, I was going to rely on the vendor.”
His search led him to a highly customizable inventory lot tracking software package that integrated easily with the order entry system and operated in a real-time, wireless environment. In fact, once the specifications for the processes were nailed down, the implementation and training took just a few weeks at both plants. Because the system is wireless, Ce De Candy’s personnel are mobile. “That makes data collection and recording much easier for them,” DePinto says.
In addition to installing wireless data collection systems in the two plants, the candy maker also outfitted tethered, or wired, scanners at remote warehouses. Those systems capture batch data on the products shipped from those locations.
Using the wireless scanners, Ce De Candy is capturing the information it needs with just three scans at critical stages of production. “With those scans, we’re able to track when and where these processes take place for every pallet,” says DePinto.
The process begins when suppliers fax an advance ship notification that identifies the lot number and quantity of product that’s going to be delivered. With that information, Ce De Candy creates license plate bar code labels in advance of receipt that include the supplier’s lot number and an internal lot number created by the candy maker’s ERP system for the product. The bar code labels are applied to pallets after the product has been verified against the purchase order and inspected for quality. Product is then putaway in the central storage area without a bar code scan.
The license plate label is scanned for the first time before the product is introduced into the manufacturing process. An operator scans the label to verify that the right product and quantity were pulled from a central storage area. The system also records an electronic time and date stamp for when the product was retrieved.
The second scan happens at the end of the manufacturing process, after the ingredients have been converted into a finished product. The system creates a bar code label with a UPC code for a carton that is scanned to verify in real-time that the product that was just produced. That also creates a date and time stamp for that product. Following that scan, the system automatically recommends the number of cases of that product that should be put on a pallet.
Once a pallet has been built, another license plate bar code label with a new lot number is created for the pallet. “We now have a lot number that tells us that at a certain time of day on a certain date that a certain batch of material was produced including the specific lot of raw materials that went into that production run,” DePinto says.
Once the pallet is labeled and stretch-wrapped, it’s stored in the warehouse. Putaway locations are maintained manually. The final scan takes place when an order is placed and a bill of lading is printed in the shipping department. That bill of lading includes a bar code representation of the order.
An operator scans the bar code representation of the order, and then scans each pallet being pulled from the warehouse for that order. Those scans validate the order number and quantity of pallets and create a third date and time stamp. Once an order has been fully picked and is ready for shipment, the system now creates a packing list that will accompany the order.
From a compliance standpoint, the system has been a success. Where the company once relied on paper record keeping, Ce De Candy now has instant access to pertinent data regarding its ingredients and final product. “In the past, we literally wrote down everything we did during the day, and then reported it at the end of the shift,” says DePinto. “Now, everything is in real-time, and we know up to the minute when things were made.” The company has been audited by the FDA and is in full compliance.
However, once Ce De Candy began working with the system, it also discovered additional benefits that have improved operations. One has been the ability to use the new data to resolve shipping disputes. In the past, if a customer claimed they were short-shipped or sent the wrong products, Ce De Candy only had its paper-based records to argue its case, and those are prone to error. Now, the system ties shipments to specific lots of product.
The system also generates a packing list at the end of the picking process that’s included with all shipments now. “We have an electronic record of when the pallet was picked and the packing list,” DePinto says. “We can tell if there was a picking and shipping error on our part or an error at the other end, at our customers’ facility.”
In addition, Ce De Candy has real-time visibility into both its manufacturing operations—at its New Jersey headquarters and at the company’s plant in Ontario. “Production data goes directly into our ERP system and can be viewed instantaneously,” says DePinto. “That means we no longer have to call our plant manager in Canada to find out what’s going on up there because all of that information is sent to our central tracking system.”
Last, the company expects to utilize the data it is now collecting to drive continuous improvement by identifying trends regarding the quality of ingredients it is receiving and inconsistencies in its processes.
“This is only the beginning of what we can do for efficiencies within the manufacturing process,” he says. “It is the most significant technology investment our company has made.”
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.